Jacqueline Miller of Toronto has a large collection of animal hearts. No, she's not bucking for the title of "Most Bizarre Hobby" in the Guinness Book of World Records. She works as a mammalogy technician for the Royal Ontario Museum.
The crown jewel in her creepy but fascinating collection has to be the massive heart of a blue whale. She shows it off in a video posted on PBS' YouTube page Thursday as part of an upcoming three-part series about ocean creatures called "Big Blue Live" that will air on BBC One in the UK and PBS in the US.
The heart is approximately 5 feet (1.5 meters) long from the top of the aorta to the lowest chamber, weighs 400 pounds (181 kilograms) and can pump 58 gallons (220 liters) of blood through a blue whale's body with every beat. Miller points out that it's not as big as some scientists have suspected.
Miller shows in the video below how having the heart can help scientists learn lots of new things about this majestic endangered species and even debunk a lot of widely held beliefs about the blue whale.
For instance, she disproves the idea that the blue whale's aorta is big enough for a person to swim through or drive a car through. As you'll see in the video, you can't even fit a Volkswagen Beetle through it. Well, technically, you could if you took it apart and passed each piece through it, but you'd just be ruining a perfectly good car and blue whale heart.
Miller and her crew obtained the heart in May 2014 from a whale found in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland, that became trapped under some sea ice and was crushed to death. The Toronto Star reported that to get to the heart, crew members had to carefully slice through layers of connective tissue, organs, arteries and veins so they could extract the heart with all of its parts intact. I hope they had a lot of hand sanitizer on hand.
The heart was then frozen and stayed on ice for over a year. They decided to thaw it out last June so they could begin the preservation process by letting it soak in a formaldehyde bath and pumping silicone into it to plasticize it. They also had to plug up the arteries, veins and cavities in the heart with whatever they could find such as buckets and plungers, according to the newspaper. MacGyver would be proud -- disgusted but proud.
There are plans in the works to put the preserved heart on display at the Royal Ontario Museum and conduct further studies using it. You can see this massive organ for yourself below, but if you're eating something like grilled chicken or Wonton soup, I'd wait until you finish your lunch.